My day began strangely today, and I feared that the jarring quality of my morning experience would cloak me in bleakness for the rest of the day . Luckily it did not.
I was in my neighborhood park sitting on a bench in the shade watching Peaches when I heard screaming and yelling coming from the other side. The local homeless guy who has been making Allyn Park his home in recent months was ranting obscenely at a woman whose large but gentle gray dog had devoured a piece of pizza. Turns out it was the lonely guy’s lunch. After some angry words went back and forth, the woman put the leash on her gentle dog and left the park as the man continued to scream. This is a fellow who has sat morning after morning on the bench with his can of beer and smiled fuzzily and comfortably at all the gentrified folk who came and went with their dogs. This morning he cracked. If I had been braver, I might have gone over to him and asked him why he was so terribly angry. but it was early on a quiet Sunday and I wanted to get back home to my classical music and more green tea, and so I left. Outside the park, the guy’s sidekick was preaching to the flustered woman as they eyed one another on the sidewalk; he was telling her she should have more sensitivity, understanding, conscience, and should apologize that her dog ate his friend’s lunch. “But what about his insults, his harshness, his bullying?” “Oh, that’s the way he is…. he’s rough around the edges.” I thought about this all the way home, and kept returning to the question: why did the man fall down the rabbit hole? why did he want to hurt this anonymous woman?
And as I walked with Peaches prancing close beside me in the sunlight, I remembered the last week spent watching the hateful speech coming from the characters in red white and blue at the Republican convention … all those words of fear and anger. Fear is key here. We’re all afflicted with it, and we don’t even realize it. We don’t want to be afraid and yet we are: of crossing the street, of falling down, of someone walking behind us in the dark, of being abandoned and forgotten. Are we afraid for our country? I doubt it. But we are afraid for our own survival, and turn away from the feeling. The homeless man who sleeps huddled in the manicured bushes breathes fear in and out, he can’t turn away. And when some innocent dog grabs his portion of pizza he’s not afraid he’ll starve, but rather that he’ll be unseen, uncared for, unheard. I get this.
As I was sitting in one of my favorite eating spots today gazing at my buttery scrambled eggs with perfect little bright cherry tomatoes and a Ceasar salad, I got a message from a dear friend whose wife is dying, and all of a sudden the anticipation and delight I had been feeling for my perfectly little meal slipped away. I saw that I ate more slowly, more deliberately, thinking of a woman younger than myself who had been courageously battling cancer for a long time, lying at home now with a hospice nurse, most likely turned away from the joys of eating for the rest of her days. In the same moment I felt sadness ebbing, and a deep gratitude for my life, for each little moment of experience, be it pleasant (eggs and a Bloody Mary) or unpleasant (the fear and loathing of the homeless guy in the park).
The awareness born in that moment over lunch reminded me to slow down and pay attention, to value all that comes my way. Our daily lives, indeed our entire life span, resemble a mosaic, with all variety of uniquely cut pieces, some of them quite beautiful and others just average, or even a tad imperfect. Sometimes they come together perfectly and sometimes they’re joined imperfectly. But it’s all there. All coming together to form a beautiful whole.
From his Memoirs, Pablo Neruda wrote: “In these memoirs or recollections there are gaps here and there, and sometimes they are also forgetful, because life is like that … Many of the things I remember have blurred as I recalled them, they have crumbled to dust, like irreparably shattered glass.” He’s reminding us that try as we might to stay mindful and to remember, there will be those imperfections, those places where there is disharmony and flawed connection. That is the nature of human experience.